Falling back on the EEA, or Thucydides

Two weeks ago, ahead of the Chequers summit, we warned that it would be a miracle if one or more Cabinet ministers did not resign. And so it has proved.
 
The subsequent Parliamentary chaos, we did not predict. The conduct of all sides in the Brexit process now reminds me of a passage from Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War when he described the impact of the disastrous wars with Sparta on Athens and on Greek unity.
 
“Thus revolution gave birth to every form of wickedness in Greece. The simplicity which is so large an element in a noble nature was laughed to scorn and disappeared… In general, the dishonest more easily gain credit for cleverness than the simple do for goodness; men take pride in one, but are ashamed of the other… At such a time, the life of the city was all in disorder, and human nature, which is always ready to transgress the laws, having now trampled them under foot, delighted to show that her passions were ungovernable, that she was stronger than justice, and the enemy of everything above her… When men are retaliating upon others, they are reckless of the future and do not hesitate to annul those common laws of humanity to which every individual trusts for his own hope of deliverance should he ever be overtaken by calamity .… The cause of all these evils was the love of power, originating in avarice and ambition, and the party-spirit which is engendered by them when men are fairly embarked in a contest… For party associations are not based upon any established law nor do they seek the public good; they are formed in defiance of the laws and from self-interest…’
 
Thus it is with Brexit, conjured up by the Conservative party, incompetently executed, yet nobody seems capable of finding a solution. Sometimes it is tempting to side with Tony Blair and call the whole thing off. Yet common sense suggests that would be a disaster too.
 
Just to add to the ruin in the nation, the Labour Party has spent the week having a somewhat repellent row about the definition of anti-semitism.
 
While not being personally involved in Brexit, though knowing people on both sides of the argument, I have therefore been suggesting both on the CapX blog and on Twitter, that temporarily falling back on our existing European Economic Area (EEA) membership, combined with the European Free Trade Area as a solution. For those not up to speed on this, EEA is a commercial treaty between Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Switzerland and the member states of the EU.
 
The Pro-EEA argument is simple. As we are already party to the EEA, we would be able to junk the whole Theresa May plan, including the three year Transition and start again with proper negotiating optionality. As it takes us out the of the Customs Union, out of the jurisdiction of the ECJ, and includes a provision for putting an emergency break on immigration, it is compatible with the referendum, while also offering a solution to most of the issues.
 
I am glad to say I am not alone. Rupert Darwall has written a similar piece for Reaction; Paul Goodman has done so for the influential Conservative Home and my ex-colleague Philip Johnston has done so on the comment pages of the Telegraph. However, the clearest and best exposition of the strategy comes from the distinguished Oxford economist George Yarrow. I strongly recommend his paper, here.
 
Falling back on temporary EEA membership is a simple idea which would work. Simplicity may be so large an element in a noble nature, but plainly, this is a long shot. The only hope is that a credible Brexiteer rival to Mrs May, such as Boris Johnson, picks it up. He gave his resignation speech yesterday and it was well-judged. All I can say is that I hope he is listening, although he has not yet endorsed the idea. Senior Remainers are also engaged.
 
One thing is for sure, without a collective change of course, I fear we are in for months if not years of the sort of political depravity recounted by Thucydides.
 

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